We're keeping some momentum going from last time, with the direct sequel to The Giant Dwarf. Without any further ado, let's dive right into...
Forgettable Tale of a Drunken Dwarf
We begin by talking to Commander Veldaban, as one does, who has some exciting new for us:
Man, that dates the quest a bit, doesn't it? But no, that isn't what Veldaban wants to tell us: it's that the Red Axe corporation, the sort-of antagonists of the prior quest, have left Keldagrim, and Veldaban wants to know why. Our only lead: the Drunken Dwarf, an unknown relation of the more famous Drunken Dwarf but no less obsessed with kebabs:
This is an interesting reference in the quest and, though I like it for the purposes of creating a more complete world, it hasn't aged terribly well. For the benefit of history, let me explain: early Runescape disallowed botting and macroing, but didn't have a good way to detect people doing it (some would argue they still don't, but that's a conversation for another time). The solution was random events: at random intervals something would happen, which would require direct player intervention, and not responding would have consequences to the player.
The Drunken Dwarf was what I'd call a "nuisance NPC"; he would appear randomly and ask you to speak to him, and if you did he would give you a beer and a kebab and teleport away. If ignored, he would start throwing rocks at you until you died or ran away. Random events were discontinued in 2012, as Jagex developer more sophisticated bot-detection mechanisms, but they were such a part of the game's culture that there are a lot of references to them in older content, most notably the Court Cases. In that context I love that these references exist, because they contextualize the game mechanic in-universe, which aids in immersion and makes the game world feel more real. However, in the fullness of time I'm more ambivalent about them because they rarely make sense unless you're familiar with the historical context, which a newer player likely wouldn't be; it's an alienating continuity reference because the continuity it references is no longer available.
All that being said, the use of the Drunken Dwarf in this quest bothers me much less than other examples, because it relies less on that prior context; I can think of two quite egregious examples, which I'll try to remember to mention as we cover them in this series.
Anyway, the Drunken Dwarf is a very fascinating character for other reasons, notably that his dialogue is drowning in foreshadowing:
With benefit of hindsight it's extremely obvious that the Drunken Dwarf's ramblings are actually an extremely accurate account of the Red Axe's plans, filtered through a lens of kebab-related nonsense and alcoholism. It's a neat storytelling detail, especially since it raises the alarming possibility that te Drunken Dwarf is actually mostly in command of his faculties, and is desperately trying to warn Keldagrim about the Red Axe, but isn't taken seriously because the message is getting garbled on the way out. It's a pretty horrifying image, and adds to the villainy of the Red Axe.
Actually, did I say "in hindsight"? I should have said "immediately", at least if you go through all of his dialogue, because the first thing he says when you ask him about the Red Axe is...
Well that isn't ominous at all. But he won't tell us anything more unless we get him "some of the good stuff", which is obviously alcohol but not, as you learn when you attempt it, ordinary beer. No, the Drunken Dwarf wants Kelda Stout, which nobody in Keldagrim serves anymore and whose hops can only be grown from special seeds. The Drunken Dwarf has one such seed, but we need four in order to grow enough hops. Our main point of contact for this quest is the barmaid of the Laughing Miner pub, in East Keldagrim, who tells us that the other three seeds will be held by other drunk dwarves, who can be likely found around Keldagrim, though she also gives us this gem:
Between those two hints we're pretty well signposted, and after some minor puzzles I have all four seeds. Now what to do with them? I didn't find anything else in the game pointing me in this direction, but luckily my last seed was found in West Keldagrim, within sight of the farming plots and Rind the gardener, who tells me that Kelda hops can only be grown in the special patch in front of the Keldagrim Palace. So I plant the seeds and...wait for them to grow. How riveting. Fortunately they only take twenty minutes to grow, and Rind has a task I can do to help pass the time (though it doesn't even come close to filling the entire wait), but once I've harvested the hops, now what do I do?
Perhaps I missed the dialogue telling me what to do, but I only figured it out thanks to my quest journal:
Ah yes, I have to go brew my hops. Remember brewing, the most completely vestigial aspect of Farming? Luckily there's a friendly NPC at the brewing vat who tells me how to brew, so I collect everything, throw it in the vat, and...go to bed. See, I did this quest pretty late in the day, hoping to get it finished before going to bed, but waiting for the hops to grow and then for the vat to ferment was just too much waiting, so I had to come back in the morning to continue the quest. This gets to the heart of my main complaints about this quest, which is the time-gating in this segment. It makes sense from certain perspectives, having an obvious brief to showcase the newly-released Farming skill and reusing the existing systems, but it destroys the pacing when I have to spend half the quest time standing around doing nothing, or doing other things. It's interesting to recall Eagle's Peak, which also showcased a newly-released skill, but avoided killing the pace of the quest by time-skipping over the more tedious aspects of it.
Then again, maybe this is a flaw in my approach. After all, I'm not really playing Twoie to play the game, I'm specifically trying to race through the quests. If I were playing my main, with other goals to pursue, maybe this wouldn't bother me as much. Hard to say.
Either way, the Drunken Dwarf now points me to an abandoned mining tunnel to the south of the city. The tunnel in question is boarded up, and I can't just ride the mine cart through it (made sense to me), so how do I proceed? The nearby cart conductor has a hint:
I really like this hint because there are two ways you could interpret it, both of which point you in the right direction. You could take this to mean the Director of the Consortium company you joined in The Giant Dwarf, which is the actual solution; or you could, as I did, immediately think of Veldaban, who would point you to the Consortium. Good signposting. Something else I liked was what awaited beyond the tunnel: a really neat puzzle.
The puzzle is this: you have a mine cart, a track with a series of junctions, some cubes with odd designs on them, and a control panel. It's immediately clear that the cubes fit into the control panel to activate the junctions, sending you down one path or another, but you have a limited number of cubes and not enough to reach your destination immediately. So you need to use the cubes you have to access other terminus points, where you can search chests to (hopefully) find more cubes. It's not a wildly difficult puzzle, in fact the most common mistake I made was simply forgetting to activate the first junction, but it's pretty creative and fun, and it escalates well; you have to complete a broadly similar puzzle three times, the second just a larger version of the first, but the third removes the destination indicators, meaning you need to be cognizant of your surroundings to work out the path to the exit. It's a good puzzle, and I quite enjoyed it.
Breaking up the mine cart puzzles are some interactive sequences that start to establish the metaplot of the quest series. First we have a short cutscene introducing the main players, Colonel Grimsson, Director Hreidmar, and the Ogre shaman Grunsh, which also establishes that the destruction of the statue in the prior quest was engineered. For the record, this doesn't really solve my problems with the narrative of that quest, and in fact only raises more questions: it's very unclear how rebuilding the statue with Hreidmar's face would have aided their plans, whatever those plans currently are.
After that we have a records room where we can read some very interesting documents, establishing some backstory for Grunsh and Grimsson, and confirming that the Drunken Dwarf discovered their operation, and that his current condition is a result of being mind-wiped and discredited.
And in the final room, we learn that the Red Axe are building an army of Chaos Dwarves, which they're presumably going to use to invade Keldagrim and take control by force. It's not really clear to me why this is "plan B" considering "plan A", putting Hreidmar's head on the body of the status of King Alvis, clearly had more steps that could probably have still been used, but whatever. Another interesting observation is that the Red Axe isn't working alone on this project:
This is a fun detail for a number of reasons, but the biggest one for me is the worldbuilding implications. A very valid criticism of the early days of Runescape storytelling is that quests mostly did their own thing, without much effort to build a consistent narrative: the Fremennik are over here doing there thing, the trolls are up here doing something totally different, and never the twain shall meet. This kind of highly-episodic storytelling works in some ways, and makes a certain amount of narrative sense when our character is a wandering hero, but it makes the world's story feel very disconnected; letting the arcs intersect like this is an easy way to alleviate that problem.
Anyway, this is everything Veldaban asked us to find out, so it's time to go back to him and have the Red Axe arrested, right? Of course not, nothing can be that easy. Instead Grunsh discovers us snooping, and hits us with a variation of the spell used on the Drunken Dwarf, so the only thing we can tell Veldaban is how much we love kebabs:
This is an interesting narrative twist, and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it's an inventive way to introduce the villain; it shows that the villain is bad (which is very important in a narrative) in a more interactive and contextualized way than cutting away to a conversation our character had no way of witnessing. On the other hand, we now have a situation where the player knows more than the player character. This sort of thing can work well (there's even a term for it: "dramatic irony"), but to my mind it's harder to pull off in video games because of the inherently-close link between the player and the player character, especially in an RPG. It creates a unnatural tension between the two, where one of two things has to happen: either the player character acts with the knowledge held by the player, breaking the narrative, or the player is forced to act in an unnatural way based on knowledge they aren't supposed to have, which risks breaking immersion.
It's not impossible to pull off, but it is rather difficult, and I'll be keeping an eye on it as the quest line progresses. For now, quest complete!
This quest was definitely more engaging than its predecessor, but I'm still not sold on the narrative direction; the story is still dragging around some significant debts that I'm struggling to see it paying off. Still, open mind, and I did like the puzzles and some of the humour moments. Call it a B?